February 6, 2015 by Devin
Disclaimer: by saying, “I am confident that there is no god,” I do understand that I am saying that if you are a theist, I think you’re wrong. I know people will take this statement about my beliefs as an attack on their beliefs. That just happens. I want to point out that by saying that I think you’re wrong, I am not saying that I do not want to understand where you are coming from or that I am not open to discussion about this topic or that you are stupid for disagreeing with me. Everything good now? Cool.
So I have not written about atheism in a while. I think it is time to stir that pot again.
Lately I have been listening to a lot of Pete Holme’s podcast, “You Made It Weird.” I was attracted to this podcast based on its frank discussion of comedy, relationships, and most intriguingly, religion. Holmes is a guy who has been through a lot of religious change, and part of him “making it weird” on his podcast is asking about what people believe about God, afterlife, and religion in general, which is a line of inquiry not often talked about in circles where everyone does not generally agree on those things.
So while I do love his frank discussion about these topics, part of his thinking always makes me cringe a bit. He will often approach the subject by asking about death and whether or not this life is it, which is a fair question, but then he often mentions that claiming that there is no afterlife takes faith. In other words, it takes as much faith to say that there is no god as there is to say there is a god.
This is a perception I have seen a lot of places, and I get frustrated with it, mainly because it is a pretty weird definition of faith.
Try this: take a small object like a pencil or cell phone. Hold it in the air. Now imagine letting go of that object. What do you think would happen?
If you said, “It will fall,” you were right. Even though I am not there, I am pretty confident and you should be pretty confident that that is what will happen. Why do we say this? Is it because we have no idea and are taking it on faith?
No, of course not. We have lots of evidence and reasoning to support this line of thinking. Even before we are able to comprehend why this happens, we drop things all the time. There is never a time in our lives when we see someone holding an object in the air and think, “Hmm, I wonder what would happen if she let that go.”
Here is another example. Find a local body of water such as a lake, pool, or filled bath tub. Slide right up next to it, and then take a step into it. If you actually did this, I am willing to bet money that you did not have shoes, heavy clothes, or expensive electronics on your person. Why? Because you knew that when you step in that water, your person would get wet. This is not something you worry about or wonder about. You just know that stepping in water will get you wet because you have done it and seen other people do it hundreds of times before.
I mean, have you ever gotten to the end of the diving board, looked down at the water, and thought, “What if I try to jump in and I hit the water like it’s concrete?”
In other words, it takes faith to believe a man will walk on water, not that he will fall into it.
So with this definition of faith in mind, I want to turn my attention to another thought experiment. In this example, take a banana and eat it. Throw out the peel in your backyard. In a month, tell me where that banana is.
You will not be able to tell me. Sure, you might be able to find a remnant of a peel in the yard if you are lucky, but chances are you will not be able to find even that. That banana’s molecules have been distributed throughout the soil and plumbing, and for all intents and purposes, that banana no longer exists. You can find what used to be that banana maybe, but you cannot find that banana any more.
Then here is the million dollar question: how are humans different than banana trees?
There are lots of differences in what we do, specifically, of course. Bananas do not build infrastructure or hunt and gather or even move around. But at the same time, at the end of the day banana trees and humans are living organisms who consume resources, reproduce, and die. Humans have an exciting brain that allows us to do cool things like make art and write blog posts, but this too dies. I know of no one who disputes that the brain dies, and most people would agree that the brain is responsible for our personalities and actions. This is a large reason why psychologists prescribe medicine that changes the brain chemistry to deal with mental problems.
Look, I know not everyone will agree with me on this point. Even my non-religious friends are often spiritual and believe that humans have some sort of soul that guides our actions beyond our brain chemistry. I get that. I’m not expecting you to become atheists like me in order to follow along with my logic.
I am saying that my conclusions are based on the idea that maybe humans and banana trees are not all that different, that human beings are just like every other living being on the planet. In other words, believing that when you die, you don’t still exist is like believing that when you toss a baseball, it won’t fly up in the air to outer space or that when you jump into a pool, you’ll get wet. It is a conclusion consistent with how we treat the world in general.
Again, if you believe in some sort of spiritual or theistic afterlife, that’s fine, but don’t act like not believing in one is some sort of grand leap of faith when we come to similar conclusions with similar logic all the time without it being considered a grand leap of faith.
1. If you’re trying to be tricksy and figure out a way that you’re holding it in the air but it won’t fall, I want to say that you’re annoying, but I would probably try and do the exact same thing.
2. People trying to be all smart-alecky and bring up hardness of water and how it can feel like concrete if you hit it the right way and stuff… stop it.
3. I know people will be like, “It takes faith to believe what you see” and “it takes faith to believe he’ll fall too” and stuff, but I find this definition of faith a bit ridiculous. If faith just means conclusions you have come to, then it does not mean anything. It loses its usefulness as a term when described like this, and it definitely does not mean hope in things not seen.
4. If you are allergic to bananas like a certain friend of mine, feel free to use an apple or an orange. Or you could just imagine what it was like to eat something like this as I assume most people will do. If you are actually eating a banana, good for you. Bananas are awesome.
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